The Goodwater Lake Trail is ~27 miles long and threads through 6 parks (clockwise starting at the southern park); Cedar Brakes, Sawyer, Walnut Spring, Russell, Jim Hogg and Woodlake. 5 of these parks have really good technical single track sections, Walnut Spring was mostly double track.
I started at the Cedar Brakes entrance. A nice little old lady at the gate told me that since I was just riding my bike I only needed to sign in - there'd be no fee (awesome).The first turn to the left once you enter the park is a cul-de-sac with a big Texas star in the middle. The trail head is on the northern edge of this parking area.
Starting off, it's pretty evident that this trail is going to be rough. It's rocky, for real. 18 of the 27 total miles are pretty similar to the Cheese Grater section of the Barton Creek Greenbelt (just not quite so momentum killing). It's mostly the type of limestone that is pox marked with holes, making myriad sharp little edges that want nothing more than to slice up your sidewalls.
The Cedar Brakes section was the most technical of the ride. It starts off with a few ledge drops and has a number of limestone gardens that are the most difficult on whole loop. It rolls along the cedars at the top of the lake's southern bluffs, occasionally swinging close enough to the lake to allow some really nice views (and high-consequence falls).
The next section, Sawyer, is almost as technical, with some really good rocky bits and a few good climbs. Sawyer ends with two stair sections. The stairs are constructed of landscape timbers anchored on a pretty steep hill. You'll climb one, roll some nice single-track along the bluff and then descend the other. Be careful descending b/c the stairs seemed to set at a distance to get you bouncing if you're trying to clip along too quickly.
After Sawyer is about 5 miles of double track. You'll hit a nice wide section, ride the road for a few feet then back to double track until you hit a big stone marker (~4 miles into the double track). I think that's called Rustlers or Walnut Spring camp. It's only about a mile long but you might as well ride it, helps break up the monotony of the double-track.
Next starts Russell's section. It's GREAT after those windy roads. Starts with a nice loose limestone climb that tops out with some difficult ledges. Russell's has a decent amount of climbing, starting off climbing out of the lake, dropping towards the park proper and then climbing again to get to Jim Hogg.
Jim Hogg is a pretty diverse bit, similar to Sawyer but less technical. As you near Jim Hogg, the trail turns to crushed granite, DO NOT leave the trail and hit the road leading into the park, keep right and follow the trail all the way into the park. According to their website, they charge $1 for riders, you don't want them to nick you for a buck. You can also check my map, change it to satellite and go to the end of Russells to see where I'm talking about. Once you get into the park, you'll pop out onto a road and you'll need to turn left, keeping the entrance gate on your left. On the other side of the main park road you'll see the trail, crushed granite, heading off north.
The final park, Woodlake, is mostly lake shore with some limestone ledges. The trail ends by hitting a blacktop hiking trail (ADA accessible) and winding around until it reaches the dam. The dam is a 1 mile wind-sprint back to the entrance.
My opinion of this ride? Do it. Immediately. Do not wait, there were already some wuss lines forming, some switchbacks being cut and some cheater rocks in place. Ride it as it is now - awesome.
Don't get me wrong, this trail is a punishing ride but I averaged 8.4 mph over this trail (CB section=7mph, Sawyer=7.6mph, Russell 6.4mph, Hogg/Woodlake 8.6mph), so the claims of 5+ being difficult are pretty un-founded. It is technically challenging, but there is harder stuff at Barton Creek and City park. Goodlake's difficulty arises from the fact that you have to pay attention for (literally) 18 miles of rock or you'll end up endo'd. The other aspect is hydration, and even in 70 degree heat, I almost drank my entire 100oz camelback by the end of the ride. It's an endurance effort that, in my experience, is pretty unique.
This trail is pretty isolated, I saw maybe 2 other bikers, 2 runners and like 7 hikers over 27 miles. I also saw a rabbit, a roadrunner, several turkey vultures and what I think was a fox. Trail wise, there seems to be a lot of unrealized potential. Just glancing at the maps, it seems like there is enough unused forested area to make another 10 miles of awesome, brutal single track in the form of side-trails and little loops.
Note: I noticed that the 'preferred' lines (those with the most traffic as evidenced by rock wear and discoloration) would often weave between taller chunks of the limestone. While this might be a bit easier to navigate (debatable) it is definitely not a better idea for your sidewalls. Weaving between those tall boulders puts your trailing tire up against a lot of potentially sidewall-slashing edges. About 80% of the time I saw this phenomena, there was a pretty easy way up-and-over the rocks.
A shaky bit of video I made with a little spy camera mounted at the base of my right shock leg. Quality is low but it gives you a good idea of the terrain.
Strava GPS map: